05 – The Social Media Hat

In 2006, a Stanford linguistics professor published a brief paper – less than 500 words – but sometimes it’s totally cool to be brief because in this 9-paragraph essay, Prof. Arnold Swicky outlined five different ways that human beings like you and I perceive the world around them that is, well, delusional.

In his words, we’re “set up to be illuded” due to the way or ways in which our brains process the limited amount of information we’re given at any given time.

For example, Swicky’s first misapprehension was dubbed “Recency Illusion” which refers to the illusion that whenever we first hear about something, that thing must be new or recent. I bet you experienced that when you first heard about TikTok, which was likely within the past year. You quite likely considered it to be a “new” app and social network, yet in truth, TikTok has been around in one form or another since 2016.

Swicky wrote about a few other illusions of perception, namely Antiquity Illusion, In-Group Illusion and Out-Group Illusion, but it’s the fifth and final way in which we illude ourselves that I’m particularly interested in.

Frequency Illusion.

Swicky wasn’t the first to notice this phenomena – it was discussed in a St. Paul Pioneer Press online forum earlier than ’06 in reference to the fact that someone had noticed more than one mention of a terrorist group that same day, and thought it odd. That terrorist group was called Baader-Meinhof and for a while this perception was called Baader-Meinhof phenomena. Swicky’s label is a little easier on the tongue.

So here’s the deal. With Frequency Illusion, your brain has two enormously fun neuron explosions happening at the same time:

  1. Selective Attention
  2. Confirmation Bias

Selective Attention is this really interesting self-preservation technique homo sapien brains developed to keep us from being overwhelmed by details and information, and remain focused on potential threats or opportunities. Imagine if you were living thousands of years ago, hunting through the wilderness with a spear. If you had been so caught up in considering every plant and stone and color around you, you might not have heard the wild animal stalking you from behind and gotten eaten. That selective attention gave us the ability to focus on what we think matters most at the time, and easily disregard all irrelevant information.

Confirmation Bias is similar in that it’s designed to help us process information as fast as possible. Ignoring information we deem irrelevant, this neural process filters out incoming data and basically says, “yeah, we already know all of that, it fits our preconceptions.” The idea is that instead of questioning everything we see, our brain saves us time and energy and determines that new information merely supports existing ideas and opinions. Without this basic process in place, every time a cloud passed in front of the sun and darkened the sky, we’d rush to the window to see if the world was ending.

The problem with both of these beautiful brain bossa novas is that they’re deeply flawed.

Selective Attention can easily empower you to ignore things that you might otherwise want to pay attention to. And Confirmation Bias is notorious for using new information to incorrectly verify an existing opinion. Like, seeing a cool new Taco Bell commercial and thinking that Taco Bell continues to be good food for you.😉

Put these two phenomena together and you have the recipe from for some pretty cool brain hackery.

Swicky’s “frequency illusion” happens when we perceive something that, up until then, selective attention had ignored. And suddenly from that moment on, thanks to confirmation bias, we see that thing everywhere.

Have you ever researched a new car online? Doubtless you’ve noticed how every website you go to now has banner ads for that car (that’s not a psychological phenomena, that’s just good retargeting of ads). But what happens when you finally buy that white Infinity QX60 and pull off the lot? As you drive home, it seems like everywhere you look someone else is driving another white Infinity QX60.

The truth is, there aren’t any more of that make and model vehicle on the road now than the day before, but we’re suddenly more aware of that particular car due to our own decision to be interested. Where our brains had previously chosen to ignore those cars as uninteresting, they’re now highly relevant and it confirms that we’ve made a good decision because of so much social proof.

For a business to leverage frequency illusion, it involves creating mechanisms in which your brand or offerings will be visible in multiple places at the same time, for the right audience.

This could (and should) utilize traditional online mediums such as social media, paid advertising, and search engine marketing. But even with a masterful approach to digital marketing, the typical brand is unlikely to reach the point where customers and prospects are saying, “I see you everywhere!”

So how do you achieve that, particularly if you aren’t selling a product that your consumers literally drive around their neighborhoods with a bag fat logo on the back?

Influencer Marketing.

It’s through the strategic use of influencers that you will begin to have your brand organically mentioned in conversations, posts and comments – everywhere your target audience is talking.

Consider this. Regardless of your business or industry, there are likely dozens of Facebook Groups and other online communities in which your target audience comprises a high percentage of the membership. Imagine how your business would be impacted if, every time someone in one of those communities asked for a recommendation, it was your name that kept getting posted as a reply, over and over again.

Would that start driving real business and revenue for you?

I don’t have to imagine… that’s exactly what happened for Agorapulse after I expanded our ambassador program to the top 50 social media marketers around the world. Seemingly overnight, Agorapulse became a household name among marketers. On more than one occasion, I was told, “6 months ago I’d never heard of Agorapulse, and now I see you everywhere.” 🧡

Did it literally happen overnight? Of course not. Besides being yet another example of Recency Illusion (Agorapulse has been around since 2008), a successful influencer marketing strategy takes a long time to develop. I spend an entire chapter of Ultimate Guide to Social Media Marketing outlining the Why, What, How and What If? of influencer marketing, and it’s the topic of my presentation at Social Pulse Summit: Twitter Edition, which is now open for free registration!

What I want to encourage you now is to think about who the influencers are for your business and industry and to start, today, making inroads toward building relationships with those influencers. Start tracking those connections in a planner. Take the time to study the concepts and tactics of a strong influencer marketing program and when you’re ready, start leveraging those influencers to create a massive Baader-Meinhof phenomena for your brand.


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